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Non Italian-American Italian Restaurants in Philadelphia?

Hello Philadelphia Chowhounders,

I have been looking over many Italian restaurants online and the majority seem to be Italian-American and many do not seem to be stellar Italian-American at that. Instead, I was hoping to find some mainland Italian restaurants with more emphasis being on the southern cuisines--let's say Lazio and Abruzzo down--rather than the northern. Are there any restaurants in Philadelphia that specialize in food from the Puglia region? On another note, I would prefer places that aren't too upscale, but are more like your average place in Rome or Bari. Pizza places are welcome as well.

Thank you very much!

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  1. Le Virtu--Abruzzo

    Modo Mio--Covers the map, but is definitely not Italian-American

    Zeppoli--Sicilian (across the bridge in Collingswood)

    Vecchia--Neapolitan-style pizza, in Phoenixville, but worth the drive (also opening in Wayne)

    Plenty of others, but those are my favs.

    1. It would not be surprising that Italian-American restaurants out number those specializing in regional Italian cuisines. However I am not quite sure how, on line, one determines and/or defines stellar in this context. Food from all regions most often overlap with some differences in ingredients based on regional tastes. Many Italian-American restaurants will have menu items, not formally defined as to regions, which do originate in a specific region. As you have defined the area from which you are seeking cuisine as Lazio (Rome) a region often represented across all Italian restaurants by some entree, side or pasta. Of course as noted by the CH poster above certain regions are more frequently represented than others, ie. Neapolitan, Sicilian, Abruzzo and Toscana. Considering the practice of many restaurants of selecting menu items across regions I would look for regional specialities if exclusive regional restaurants are not found. Of course frequently North and South cuisine restaurants are identified with some overlap of region. With a few Philadelphia establishments representing Italian regional cooking exclusively one would find more diversity in NYC ;but then they will probably not be "average and not too upscale". Interesting that you have thrown in Pizza places in this rather specific request.

      10 Replies
      1. re: Bacchus101

        Ne, perhaps it sounds rather specific, but it isn't meant to be. Rather, I was hoping to throw a lot of different ideas out there aren't very many restaurants that may fit the bill of a request. For instance, a place specializing in the cuisine of Puglia may not be available, but there surely are restaurants that represent the cuisines of regions south of Lazio across the menu, which is what I think you were getting at in your post and is what I meant and what PhillyBest recommended in Modo Mio. I also threw in pizza because I've found decent pizza extremely hard to come by in Philadelphia in comparison to the quality you can get most places in, say, Rome.

        As for there being more Italian-American restaurants, well obviously and I'm not blaming the city for that, and perhaps I was a bit harsh in what I said about them (judging their quality from online). Rather, I should restate that as the food appears to be something I'm not very interested in, with them seemingly leaning towards an overdose of sauce and cheese. All in all, I'm just looking for places that compare to run-of-the-mill places in many parts of Italy where I can get a simple spaghetti aglio e olio that doesn't cost a ridiculous amount for no good reason.

        Thank you, PhillyBest. I've heard quite a bit about Le Virtu and Modo Mio, but not the others. From what I know Le Virtu and Modo Mio both sound rather tasty from the menus, and Modo Mio is very reasonably priced, which is nice because I'm looking for an "every day" place.

        1. re: Cnote11

          For Neopolitan pizza, I think Nomad on 7th St is the best. They also just opened a place on 13th specializing in Roman style, I havent tried that one. I havent tried Pizzeria Vetri yet.

          In general, pizza has gotten tremendously better here over the past couple years. Lots of places do solid Neopolitan pies now but personally I am really into the great American-style pies from Beddia and Pizza Brain.

          Definitely try Le Virtu and Modo Mio, both are great. Avoid Modo Mio on Sundays when do a family style red gravy menu.

          > I'm just looking for places that compare to run-of-the-mill places in many parts of Italy where I can get a simple spaghetti aglio e olio that doesn't cost a ridiculous amount for no good reason.

          This will be hard, the reason, which may not be good, is that great, authentic Italian food is scarce so places can charge a lot for it.

          Also I wonder what places you are looking at that you think are overloading on sauce and cheese. There are a lot of decent Italian BYOBs that while incorporating Italian-American dishes and not staying true to any particular region, do dish out, for example, solid saltimboca, veal picatta, appropriately sauced Puttenesca and arriabata, etc. Many make their own pasta and prices are usually very reasonable.

          My suggestion is to put aside your prejudices and try some of these BYOBs, you may find one that you like even if it some of the dishes make you cringe. My current favorite in this style in Eatalia in Port Richmond but a few others I've had good meals at are L'Angolo, Hostaria De Elio, Branzino, and Tre Scalini (the latter two are a little less casual than you seem to want, but arent very fancy).

          1. re: barryg

            I have not been to Nomad yet, but I think it looks spectacular and I've been dying to go. I did try Pizzeria Vetri as it is closer to my place and I thought it was very good and much better than places like Zavino, which I thought was just okay. I should note that I'm new to the city, so I don't know all the places that well, as my main cuisines that I focus on are geographically of East Asia, so I've spent my time with the Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, etc. restaurants of Philadelphia and have largely ignored most others (besides the Turkish, Lebanese places) Either way, I haven't been here very long.

            So this is exactly why I'm here! I've only really seen the Italian places around my vicinity and a few in the Italian Market, so my sample size is limited and I am happy for you to expand it. For reference, I actually like Italian-American food a lot even when done with a lot of cheese and sauce, although that is definitely NOT something I can handle all the time, but I sure do get cravings. I've heard of Eatalia and thought it looked fine. Same with L'Angolo and I had just made note of Tre Scalini today. Branzino and Hostaria De Elio don't ring any bells though, and I will definitely check into those. Thank You!

            1. re: barryg

              Oh yes, also! I cannot agree enough with your sentiment about finding a dish at a place even if other dishes make you cringe. I cannot count the number of Chinese restaurants in Philadelphia that I think the majority of their menu is absolute rubbish but I can't stop myself from going back time after time for a particular dish or two.

            2. re: Cnote11

              For pizza, have you been to the newer pizza places in town? Nomad, Zavino, Vetri pizzeria, Bufad, or Stella? A lot are Neopolitan style, but a couple do Roman style.

              For nicer restaurants, I'd add Melograno. I don't think they stick with one region, but of all the restaurants I've been to in Philly it's the one that feels most to me like a restaurant in Italy, in atmosphere and food sensibility.

              There are also a couple of reasonably priced Italian BYOs perched somewhere between Italian-American and regional Italian. Salento, Casta Diva, etc. Maybe not what you're looking for, but you can get a decent meal that's affordable and not about excessive cheese and cream sauces.

              I don't know if there's any American city that has the kind of food culture you seem to be looking for. (If not I'd love to hear!) There may be no good reason to overcharge for a basic spaghetti dish, but it takes some research and effort to create a facsimile of a Bari restaurant, so your everyday, lower-end restaurant is not going to do that. Or maybe I'm misreading your expectations.

                1. re: barryg

                  I was writing at the same time you posted - sorry to repeat half of what you wrote. I agree with Nomad as best of the pizza places, and I've been to Vetri as well as Nomad Roman.

                2. re: lowereastrittenhouse

                  I thought Zavino was jut okay, but I really enjoyed Pizzeria Vetri. I haven't tried the others, but as noted above, I am very optimistic about Nomad. As for Melograno, I think the wild boar ragu sounds fantastic and I would very much love to try this.

                  I have read about Salento and I thought it sounded promising but there isn't too much info about it online. I'll check out your recommendations for sure. Thank you!

                  For reference, I don't really have any expectations. I figured this would be a large "miss" sort of thing, but I was curious to find something that was here, there, or in-between so I can learn more about what Philadelphia has to offer in terms of Italian.

                  1. re: Cnote11

                    If you do not like Zavino, it is unlikely you will like Stella either.
                    Bufad l have difficulty understanding why anyone likes. Earnest people true but did not work for me at all.
                    you might try Tacconelli's for pizza, my fav but a different style based on fab crust which is my measure, l love, others do not. #9 on Alan Richman best of US
                    To add to PBYOB Zeppoli is my current fav of area Italian.
                    Was there last night and it rocked, His antipasta , gnocchi, and off menu squid, squid ink, and squid ink pasta are wonderful. Squid dish on my fav list for resto dishes this year.
                    Time for me to return to Monsu.

                3. re: Cnote11

                  Finding exclusively regional Italian restaurant can be successfully done in large cities, ie. London, Paris, New York Tokyo and the like. Philadelphia does have some good representation of regionally exclusive restaurants but as mentioned most do incorporate a bit of a mixed offering. And as also stated previously these type restaurants are most often not inexpensive.

              1. to your last request, i think ulivo and amis are both great and both real italian.

                1. Monsu is specifically Sicilian, and lately my favorite regional Italian resto. Very reasonably priced, plus BYO. Also owned by the Modo Mio owner.
                  Best mussels I've ever had too.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: BelgianBeerMistress

                    I'll second Monsu's amazingly creative, wonderful food. Maybe my favorite restaurant in the city of any kind.

                    1. re: BelgianBeerMistress

                      "Best mussels I've ever had" is very high praise coming from a Belgian Beer Mistress. The folks in Brugge and Antwerpen are in total shock! The best mussels I have ever had have been in Belgium. That comment coupled with the Modo Mio ownership is reason enough to visit Monsu.

                      1. re: Bacchus101

                        Ha! I can't say I'm a mussels authority just because I like to drink Orval, but I've had my share, and they must put fairy dust in the sauce (actually, I think it might be saffron). Anyway, they are amazing.

                    2. Pretty sure these two (same owner) specialize in the Puglia regional cusine: http://www.salentorestaurant.com/inde...

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: SP1

                        Though hardly strict... grana and white balsamic on salad, mascarpone polenta, Italian-American style braciola, etc.